The best headphones for 2024 (and why they made our list)

The best headphones for 2024 (and why they made our list)
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Black headphones and apple airpods pro on a geometric background

The best headphones of 2024:

Best sound-first headphones

Sony WH-1000XM5

$398 at Amazon

black Sony WH 1000XM5s on an orange and pink background

Best noise-cancelling earbuds

Apple AirPods Pro

$249 at Amazon

usb-c airpods pro on wooden table

Best comfortable headphones

Bose QuietComfort 45

$312.99 at Best Buy
(Save $16.01)

smoke bose quietcomfort 45

Best budget-friendly ANC earbuds

Beats Studio Buds +

$169.95 at Amazon

ivory beats studio buds+ on green background

Best workout headphones

Beats Fit Pro

$159.95 at Amazon
(Save $40)

pink beats on purple background

Best premium noise-cancelling headphones

white bose qc ultra headphones on a green book

Best wired earbuds

Marshall Mode

$59.99 at Amazon

marshall headphones on deskmat next to lamp

There are hundreds of different headphones and earbuds in varying shapes, sizes, styles, colors, and of course, prices. Obviously, they all have the same basic goal of getting audio from your device and to your ears, and there’s plenty out there that will do the job just fine.

However, if you’re tired of settling for just “fine” when it comes to tech that you may be using for many of your waking hours, it’s worth knowing what the best headphones out there are. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on budget options or going all in on a $500 pair — knowing what you want out of your listening experience, and seeing what headphones and earbuds are actually capable of delivering will go a long way.

How to choose the best headphones

We’ll show our hand early: there’s no definitive “best” headphones. Sure, there are brands like Bose, Sony, and Apple that tend to put out high quality products across the board, but even within each of those brands, there’s going to be different tiers of products: some will be better value, some will be better hardware and software wise — no one brand or pair is the definitive best.

All this to say, the best pair of headphones largely comes down to personal preference. Here are some questions you might ask yourself when weighing your choice:

  • Are you planning on listening at home or on the go? If you want over-ear headphones, you might prefer ones that fold up easily in your bag and are comfortable to wear for long stretches of time.

  • If you’ll be wearing your headphones on your commute or in the office, is strong active noise cancellation a requirement?

  • When it comes to noise cancellation, are you particularly sensitive to white noise or certain types of noise cancelling? If you are, investing in adjustable ANC is the way to go.

  • How long do you really need the battery to last? Will a six-hour battery life at a time get you through, or do you need the promise of a true all-day battery?

  • Are you using wireless headphones for casual listening, for staying focused, or for working out? This might mean the difference between investing in an audio-first brand, a pair with top-notch ANC, or a pair with wingtips that actually keep your headphones in your ears while you run.

  • What kind of music do you like to listen to with your headphones? Are you a fan of a nice and loud bass line, or do you prefer a more balanced tone? When it comes to sound quality, are you a discerning audiophile, or are you generally happy with something that’s relatively well-balanced?

  • Tired of lossless audio claims that don’t pan out? Maybe you’d prefer to go for a pair of wired headphones that actually deliver.

These are just some of the questions you can use to guide your purchasing journey, but don’t get overwhelmed. With each of our picks below, we’ve done the research and testing to answer them for you, all to help point you to your personal best pair of headphones or earbuds.

Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose 700

Read our full review of the Bose 700 headphones.

Who it’s for:

Many headphones with active noise cancellation have at least one level of noise cancellation, plus a transparency mode, so you’re not completely unaware of the world around you in every situation. The Bose 700s amp that up tenfold, giving you ten different adjustable levels of ANC, plus one level without, for the ultimate customization experience. If you’re picky about how your ANC works, these are your headphones.

Why we picked this:

When Mashable tech reporter Alex Perry tested out these headphones, he found they worked effortlessly in multiple loud scenarios: “I’ve tried these out in the lively Mashable office, on the busy streets of New York City, and even in a particularly noisy bar. In every scenario, I couldn’t hear much, except for what I chose to listen to.”

To cycle through the different levels, you can use the app or cycle between three favorite settings directly on the headphones. As they’re being phased out of Bose’s lineup (the Bose QuietComfort Ultras are serving as their replacement, though they only have one level of ANC and transparency mode), they are on sale — you’ll just want to grab them while they’re still around.

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Battery life: 20 hours | Colors: Black, soapstone, silver luxe

Best sound-first headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

at Amazon

Save $71.99

Read our full review on the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.

Who it’s for:

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones deliver top-notch ANC and audiophile-level sound quality, with a hefty 30-hour battery life. Their design offers a less expensive alternative to the AirPods Max, for those who like their headphones to sound and look good.

Why we picked this:

If you’re into Bose headphones but aren’t totally sold on Sony, we’re willing to bet you’ll see something you like in the WH-1000XM5s.

Often, people herald Bose as having the superior ANC but Sony as owning the sound space. Deputy Reviews Editor Miller Kern definitely noticed these headphones excelling in the latter when she tested them out: “[The sound] is full and clear, and feels like surround sound. I’m a big fan of power ballads (I’m not allowed to pick the music at parties), and Brandi Carlile’s ‘Right on Time‘ sounded like it was meant to be listened to on these headphones. The vocals and instruments all got to shine, and the headphones made it feel like I was there in the studio. These are probably the best-sounding headphones I’ve ever tried.” We wish they folded up so they weren’t so bulky to take on the go, but it’s a relatively small con compared to the pros, especially if you’re planning on wearing these headphones most of the time.

Battery life: 30 hours | Colors: Black, blue, silver

Best noise-cancelling earbuds: Apple AirPods Pro

Apple AirPods Pro

at Amazon

Save $86.76

Read our full review of the second-generation USB-C AirPods Pro.

Who it’s for:

If portability, active noise cancellation, and balanced sound are what you’re looking for, your search ends with the AirPods Pro. It’s not uncommon for earbuds to have active noise cancellation, but the AirPods Pro deliver an impressive performance. Plus they’re versatile — whether you like to wear your headphones around the house, on a run, or as you’re falling asleep at night, the AirPods Pro fit the bill. For obvious reasons, they’re also the best headphones for iPhone users.

Why we picked this:

Last year, Apple finally gave their AirPods Pro a much-needed upgrade in the form of a USB-C charger. Other than the charging port, they’re identical to the second-gen Pros released in 2022, which Mashable Senior Editor Stan Schroeder described as “the first pair of earbuds I’d actually consider taking on an airplane (instead of my much larger and clunkier over-ear headphones).” He went on to say “In some aspects, the active noise cancellation was even better than on my daily drivers: B&W’s excellent PX7 over-ear headphones.”

Despite their size and enhanced ANC, the Pro’s battery still lasts for up to six hours on a single charge and 30 hours overall with the case. However, it is worth noting that the battery life will noticeably decline after a few years.

Battery life: 6 hours per charge (30 hours with case) | Colors: White

Most comfortable headphones: Bose QuietComfort 45

Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones

at Best Buy

Save $16.01

Who it’s for:

Over-the-ear headphones are ideal for an immersive listening experience with top-tier ANC, but they’re more likely to sacrifice comfort in the process. With the Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones, you get the best of both worlds — stellar audio, and no ear fatigue.

Why we picked this:

Lead Shopping Reporter Haley Henschel uses the Bose QuietComfort 45 on a daily basis and praises them as the most comfortable headphones she’s ever owned. Until she found the QC 45s, the on- and over-ear cans from Bose, JBL, and Beats that she tested kept making her head ache. “That wasn’t the case with the cushiony and lightweight Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones, which feel secure but not overly snug — I can wear them for an entire workday, no problem. The cherry on top is their fantastic noise cancellation, which is a godsend for my eardrums when my parrot (who lives in my office) decides to randomly scream.”

Lead Shopping Reporter Bethany Allard also found that the QC 45s wear easily over an entire workday, even while she wears glasses. Besides the comfort factor, the audio comes through well-balanced with minimal distortion, though the Bluetooth connection can be a little spotty when it hits the higher end of its 30-foot range.

Battery life: 20 hours | Colors: Black, blue, grey, white

Budget-friendly ANC earbuds: Beats Studio Buds +

Who it’s for:

If you’re into earbuds with good ANC but less into shelling out $249, you’ll find your happy medium in the Beats Studio Buds +.

Why we picked this:

The AirPods Pro are great, but they’re not in everyone’s budget. These Beats will run you about $80 less (or an even greater discount, if you catch them on sale), give you some more leeway with color options, integrate just as well into an Apple ecosystem as AirPods, have the same battery life as AirPods, and still deliver pretty good ANC. If you’re into a more bass-heavy sound, you’ll definitely be happy with these.

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While we didn’t find them to be a one-to-one experience during our testing — you should expect the AirPods to block out more, and you won’t be able to wirelessly charge them — they were still incredibly comfortable. We also found them to fit better than AirPods, so if those Apple earbuds usually slip out of your ears, you’ll want to try these Apple earbuds. And for Android users, Google Fast Pair makes these earbuds a much better option than AirPods.

We do want to mention that if $169.95 is still fairly steep, you can also get ANC through Amazon’s Echo Buds for just $119.99. They were our former budget pick, but we found the Beats to have more to offer all-around. For another solid option in the budget wireless earbuds space, try the Anker Soundcore Life P3i earbuds, which offer ANC and great battery life for $50. Though, they do lack multipoint pairing and have a less rich sound profile than Beats earbuds.

Battery life: 6 hours with ANC, 9 without (27 hours with charging case) | Colors: Ivory, black, transparent, silver

Best workout headphones: Beats Fit Pro

Beats Fit Pro

at Amazon

Save $40.00

Read our full review of the Beats Fit Pro.

Who it’s for:

When it comes to workout headphones, you need a pair that’ll actually stay in your ears. Motivating yourself to get through a set of push-ups is hard enough without an earbud popping out. The Beats Fit Pro earbuds are more than up to the task, and they deliver exceptional battery life, sound quality, and a few extras.

Why we picked this:

Earbuds designed for exercise typically have some sort of wingtip to help hold them in place, but those wingtips can often squeeze uncomfortably on your ears, especially with longer-term use. The small wingtip of these Beats hit the sweet spot — they’re large enough to provide hold, and small enough to be undetectable. Mashable tech reporter Alex Perry writes that the wingtips “result [in] a pair of earbuds that never feel like they’re going to fall out and, more importantly, never intrude on your comfort. I’ve worn these bad boys for six straight hours without any problems. It’s hard to ask for more than that.”

Beyond comfort, these earbuds provide an impressive sound profile, including that deep bass that Beats are known for. And of course, as any workout earbuds should be, these earbuds are sweat and water-resistant with an IPX4 rating.

Battery life: 6 hours (24 hours with case) | Colors: Black, white, coral, gray, pruple, blue, yellow, tan, brown, beige

Best premium noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Who it’s for:

If you’re looking for a headphone experience built around comfort or excellent ANC, we think the other Bose headphones we’ve recommended so far will more than do the job (and for cheaper). However, if you appreciate premium features such as spatial audio and don’t mind paying more for them, you’ll be happy with the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones — and you’ll still dole out less than you would for an Apple over-ear headphone.

Why we picked this:

These are QuietComfort headphones, so we weren’t at all surprised that they delivered all-day wear without issue. Even with glasses on, they never felt too tight or heavy, despite being an over-ear headphone with earcups that sealed out sound. Speaking of sound, it always came out well-rounded on these headphones and functioned well with the immersive audio (which, by the way, is a new feature for the QuietComfort line).

They don’t have adjustable ANC like the 700s, but the one ANC level offered works. Seriously, you’ll want to use the transparency mode when you’re walking around lest it be a genuine safety hazard. As for the downsides, these headphones are expensive at $429, so we expected a lot out of them. The pairing can be a little touch and go at times and completely fine at others, but this inconsistency is characteristic of other Bose headphones we’ve tested. The battery life is just so-so, but the most baffling flaw of these headphones is the lack of passive playback, meaning you have to turn on the headphones to use the wired connection. Though these are clearly meant to be wireless headphones first and foremost, this feels like a weird oversight (and deviation from older models).

Battery life: 24 hours | Colors: White, black, sandstone

Best wired earbuds: Marshall Mode

Marshall Mode earbuds

at Amazon

Save $4.09

Who it’s for:

There are a lot of good reasons to consider wired earbuds. Some people simply don’t want the hassle of constantly charging their headphones. Fair enough. Some people want impressive audio quality without shelling out $100 or more, and some simply don’t buy in to what Big Bluetooth has to offer. For shoppers who fall into any of the above groups, we recommend the affordable Marshall Mode earbuds.

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Why we picked this:

Though they’re only $60 (and often on sale for less than $50), the Marshall Mode earbuds deliver better sound than earbuds that are triple the price. The bass is clear but not overpowering, and the highs bright but never too thin or tinny-sounding.

As for how you sound on the headphone’s built-in mic, friends we spoke to on the phone said we came through with perfect clarity (the same can’t be said for our tester’s two-and-a-half year old first-generation AirPods Pro). Lower down on the wire is a separate remote, so you can pause and play your audio or hang up your calls without fiddling around with the mic. If you’re sensing a theme, these earbuds are well-designed, and that comes through in how they wear and store.

During our testing, we had no trouble with the wire tangling, and it never felt too long during everyday wear. The buds themselves come with three ear tip sizes and wear comfortably all day. If you’re not a fan of the shape of AirPods, then you’re likely to find these a better shape for actually keeping your earbuds situated in your ears. There is one major downside with these wired earbuds, however. Unlike their more expensive wired counterparts, Marshall’s don’t come with a replaceable wire, so you’ll want to take extra care to be as gentle as you can with the wire to extend its lifespan.

Battery life: N/A | Colors: Black

How we tested the best headphones

Over the years, we’ve tested out a lot of headphones and wireless earbuds at Mashable. To determine the best of the best, and not just pick what’s trendy at the moment, we went back through our reviews from former and current tech reporters, editors, and shopping reporters, then compared our notes to what people are buying these days. From JBL and Sony to Samsung and Anker Soundcore, we did our research to make sure we left no major headphone stone unturned, and the result is this guide — our favorite vetted and tested headphones of 2024 (so far).

All of the headphones in this guide were hands-on tested. In making our selections, we weighed:

  • Sound: Since headphones are first and foremost a way for you to listen to audio, if a pair of headphones didn’t sound good, they didn’t make the list — that goes for our budget pick, too.

  • Noise cancellation: These days, some form of noise cancellation is near-essential for any pair of headphones. We prioritized models that feature solid noise cancellation.

  • Comfort: What’s the point of a great pair of headphones if they’re too uncomfortable to wear?

  • Customization: Whether it be for ANC levels, transparency modes, or touch controls, headphones that allow you to adjust the settings will make them feel like they were made for you.

  • Battery life: Most wireless headphones on the market rely on Bluetooth connectivity, so having a battery you can rely on for at least a few hours of listening time is key.

  • Special features: When testing headphones and earbuds, we also take into consideration any other special features they offer. For headphones in the $200-plus price range, we expect at least a few special features.

You might notice that the Apple AirPods Max are missing from our top picks. It’s not that we don’t like them — in fact, we think they sound and look great. But when we reviewed them, we found that they didn’t have a practical storage option, they never really turn off (thus draining the otherwise long battery life), and are just too expensive to justify a wholehearted recommendation. We understand if you like them regardless, but personally, we think there are better options at lower price points.

Recent testing updates

As of Feb. 2024, two of our former recommendations, the Skullcandy Sesh Evo earbuds and Sennheiser IE 300 have been discontinued. We’re in the process of testing new headphones to take their place, and we chose the Marshall Mode earbuds as our new budget pick for earbuds. We also added in the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones as an upgrade recommendation in March 2024.

From April to May 2024, we also tested the Marshall Major V headphones and Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 headphones, both of which had excellent sound profiles and easy to navigate custom equalizers on their companion apps. Ultimately, they didn’t make the cut on our final list for a couple of reasons. With the Major V headphones, we love that their claim of 100+ hours of battery life held up under our testing, but we found them to get uncomfortable after a couple of hours, and would have appreciated ANC at their $149 price point.

For the B&W headphones, we loved their design and premium feel in addition to their truly impressive sound, but we found that their ANC was only so so, and that if you’re willing to spend $399, you can find a better balance of sound and ANC in the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.


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